Archive for the ‘principles’ tag

The 'TAO of Journalism' seal

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Following my previous blog (‘What are the universal principles that guide journalism‘) John Hamer, Executive Director of the Washington News Council (www.wanewscouncil.org), got in touch.

He has been developing a voluntary, self-affixed seal that individual journalists – bloggers included – and media organizations could put on their sites. It has the natty title, the ‘TAO of Journalism‘, since its three tenets are Transparency, Accountability, and Openness.

Hamer explains how these are defined on his blog:

“TRANSPARENT – We will fully disclose who we are, our journalistic mission and our guiding principles. We will post information on our background and expertise, including education and experience. We will list advertisers, donors, grants, and any other payments that support our work. If affiliated with a political party or special-interest group, we will disclose that. If lobbying for any particular legislation or regulation, we will disclose that. If we are being paid to promote a product or cause, we will disclose that. If other factors could be seen as potential conflicts of interest, we will disclose them.

“ACCOUNTABLE – If we get any facts wrong, we will admit that promptly and publicly. We will post/publish/print/podcast/broadcast a correction or at least a clarification. We will fully explain what happened to cause the error or mistake. We will do a follow-up story if that is appropriate, putting the original material in better context. We will apologize and promise to be more careful next time. We will show a little humility.

“OPEN – If there are credible challenges to our point of view or simply differences of opinion, we will be open to contrary positions. We will give the other side(s) opportunity and space to express their views and engage in open public dialogue through comments or other means. If we are primarily engaged in opinion and commentary, rather than news reporting, we will make that clear – while inviting others to express their opinions through comment and feedback means.”

Some of the other principles of journalism are deliberately excluded since the seal is supposed to be inclusive rather than exclusive. That is not say the seal is not compatible with these, just that the “TAO of Journalism Seal” (a registered trademark) does not require journalists to follow any particular principles. Just to be transparent about what ethics codes or standards they follow, plus accountable for errors and open to other views.

The idea got a good reception, Hamer says, at the University of Washington ‘Journalism That Matters‘ event where it was launched. The News Council has funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue this project along with others, in addition to other donations.

There is a website in development at www.taoofjournalism.org. I’ll keep a track of developments on this blog.

Written by Martin Moore

February 9th, 2010 at 10:37 am

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What are the universal principles that guide journalism?

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This blog was first published on the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab.

Defining principles of journalism is difficult. Rewarding, but difficult.

Back in 2005 it took the Los Angeles Times a year of internal discussions to settle on its ethical guidelines for journalists. The Committee for Concerned Journalists took four years, did oodles of research and held 20 public forums, in order to come up with a Statement of Shared Purpose with nine principles (which was subsequently fleshed out in the excellent “The Elements of Journalism” by Kovach and Rosenstiel).

Time spent thinking can then translate into a lot of principles. The BBC’s editorial guidelines — which include guidance about more than just journalism — run to 228 pages. The New York Times’ policy on ethics in journalism has more than 10,000 words. Principles needn’t be so wordy. The National Union of Journalists (U.K.) code of conduct, first drafted in 1936, has 12 principles adding up to barely more than 200 words.

But, once defined, these principles serve multiple functions. They act as a spur to good journalism, as well as a constraint on bad. They provide protection for freedom of speech and of the press — particularly from threats or intimidation by the government or commercial organizations. And they protect the public by preventing undue intrusion and providing a means of response or redress.

Principles in the Online World

In an online world, principles can serve another function. They can help to differentiate journalism from other content published on the web, whether that be government information, advertising, promotion, or institutional or personal information.

One of the key elements of hNews — the draft microformat the Media Standards Trust developed with the AP to make news more transparent — is rel-principles. This is a line of code that embeds a link within each article to the news principles to which it adheres. It doesn’t specify what those principles should be, just that the article should link to some.

Now that lots of news sites are implementing hNews (over 200 sites implemented the microformat in January), we’re getting some pushback on this. News sites, and bloggers, generally recognize that transparent principles are a good idea but, having not previously made them explicit online, many of them aren’t entirely sure what they should be.

When we started working with OpenDemocracy, for example, they realized they had not made their principles explicit. As a result of integrating hNews, they now have. Similarly, the information architect and blogger Martin Belam, who blogs at currybet.net and integrated hNews in January 2010, wrote: “it turned out that what I thought would be a technical implementation task actually generated a lot of questions addressing the fundamentals of what the site is about… It meant that for the first time I had to articulate my blogging principles.”

So, in an effort to help those who haven’t yet defined their principles, we’re in the process of gathering together as many as we can find, and pulling out the key themes.

This is where you can help.

Asking for Feedback

We’ve identified 10 themes that we think characterize many journalism statements of principle. This is a result of reviewing dozens of different (English language) principles statements available on the web. The statements were accessed via the very useful journalism ethics page on Wikipedia; via links provided by the Project for Excellence in Journalism; and from the Media Accountability Systems listed on the website of Donald W. Reynolds Institute of Journalism.

These themes are by no means comprehensive — nor are they intended to be. They are a starting point for those, be they news organizations or bloggers, who are drawing up their own principles and need a place to start.

We’d really like some feedback on whether these are right, if ten is too many, if there are any big themes missing, and which ones have most relevance to the web.

Ten Themes

Our 10 themes are:

  1. Public interest Example: “… to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time” (American Society of Newspaper Editors)
  2. Truth and accuracy Example: “[The journalist] strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair” (National Union of Journalists, UK)
  3. Verification Example: “Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment… [The] discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment” (Principles of Journalism, from Project for Excellence in Journalism)
  4. Fairness Example: “… our goal is to cover the news impartially and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and all parts of our society fairly and openly, and to be seen as doing so” (New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism)
  5. Distinguishing fact and comment Example: “… whilst free to be partisan, [the press] must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact” (Editors Code of Practice, PCC, U.K.)
  6. Accountability Example: “The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate” (International Federation of Journalists, Principles on the Conduct of Journalists)
  7. Independence Example: “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know… [and] Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” (Society of Professional Journalists)
  8. Transparency (regarding sources) Example: “Aim to attribute all information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative, attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances” (Australian Journalists Code)
  9. Restraint (around harassment and intrusion) Example: “The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected
    or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the public’s right to be informed. Each situation should be judged in the light of common sense, humanity and the public’s rights to know” (Canadian Association of Journalists)
  10. Originality (i.e. not plagiarizing) Example: “An AP staffer who reports and writes a story must use original content, language and phrasing. We do not plagiarise, meaning that we do not take the work of others and pass it off as our own” (Associated Press Statement of news values and principles)

There are, of course, many excluded from here. We could, for example, have gone into much more depth in the area of “limitation from harm,” which is only briefly referred to in number nine. Principles to inform newsgathering could form another whole section in itself.

There is also the growing area of commercial influence. In the U.S., the FTC has become pretty animated about bloggers taking money to promote goods while appearing to be impartial. In the online world, the line between editorial and commercial content can get pretty blurred. Right now this is just covered by number five, independence. Should there be a separate principle around independence from commercial influence?

Any and all responses are much appreciated, so please leave them in the comments. Also feel free to get in touch directly if you’d like to continue the discussion (I’m at martin DOT moore AT mediastandardstrust DOT org).

Written by Martin Moore

February 3rd, 2010 at 6:03 am

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Journalism for everyone – why the BBC’s journalism website is such an important public resource

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When Dan Gillmor suggested that we’re all journalists now, back in 2004, he was talking more about our newfound opportunity to publish journalism rather than a newfound aptitude to practice journalism.

Gillmor rightly pointed out that, once we had internet access, we could all publish what we saw, heard and did. And boy did we. Today more than 225,000 blogposts are published on WordPress. 20 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. More than 300 million people are now on Facebook – many providing regular ‘news updates’.

But publishing what you’ve seen, heard or done is different from journalism. Much of the new ‘reporting’ – whether by amateur bloggers and micro-bloggers, or by professional communicators in government, commercial organizations or NGOs – is not necessarily informed by the principles of journalism. By this I mean the principles of verification, of objectivity (in process rather than product), of independence (from commercial or government), of accountability, and of public interest. (nb. see George Snell on ‘reporting is now a commodity’ HT @Greenslade).

“Why should what we publish be informed by the principles of journalism?”, you ask. Well, certainly a lot of new content neither aspires to be or wants to be considered ‘journalism’.

But, if you ask a different question – do I want this content to be trusted? Then you have part of your answer.

The principles of journalism developed partly out of an aspiration to inspire trust. The principles are a journalists way of saying: I’ve checked this so you don’t have to; I’ve contacted people with differing views in order to best represent a range of perspectives; I’m not doing this to promote a product or service; I have written and published this in the public – rather than private – interest.

Clearly some people who have embraced the opportunities of new media do this already – and more so. In terms of transparency, bloggers have shown mainstream media best practice rather than vice versa.

But masses of self-published content is not informed by these principles. In many cases because they’re not relevant (like Facebook updates). But with others, it’s not because the content does not seek to be balanced, or fair, or trustworthy, but because those publishing it are not familiar with the principles or have not thought it necessary to make them explicit.

Which is why the launch of the BBC’s college of journalism site this week is so important. This is one of the most substantial online journalism resources in the world. There are many other important sites – the Poynter Institute, the Columbia Journalism Review, Project for Excellence in Journalism, journalism.co.uk, buzzmachine. But few that have such a wealth of teaching materials and resources, curated so carefully and put together so professionally.

Take, for example, the section on ‘public interest’ journalism in Ethics and Values. Alan Little uses the wars in the ex-Yugoslavia as a basis to explain how a journalist has to guide ‘An intelligent, informed audience… to make the connection between a specific event and its broader significance’. A ‘journalism tutor’ gives you the material to pitch a story – on its public interest merits – to a news editor. There are guidelines about the use of secret recording and on the line between privacy and the public interest. And BBC journalists talk about what they understand by ‘public interest’ journalism.

There are similar sections on trust and judgment, accountability, independence, impartiality, and truth and accuracy. Elsewhere on the site you can see tutorials about writing for the web, read about the difficulties of maintaining contempt of court on the web, and test how much you know about world religions.

There could, of course, be more. I’d like to see a section on transparency in journalism – what this means and how to do it well. But this is a remarkable and important resource, not just for those who aim to be journalists, but for the growing millions of professional and amateur communicators on the web.

Written by Martin Moore

December 16th, 2009 at 3:37 pm

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